Whitacre Discusses GM’s Loan Repayment, Possible IPO, Plant Investments
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Using an assembly plant in the nation's heartland as a backdrop, General Motors chairman and chief executive officer Ed Whitacre Wednesday confirmed what had been widely reported. The automaker has made its final payment of $5.8 billion to the U.S. Treasury and Export Development Canada.
Whitacre said the final financial installment means the government loans have been repaid in full and ahead of schedule.
"GM is able to repay the taxpayers in full, with interest, ahead of schedule because more customers are buying vehicles like the Chevrolet Malibu and Buick LaCrosse we build here in Fairfax," Whitacre told a gathering in Fairfax, Kan.
"We are now building some of the best cars, trucks and crossovers we have ever built, and customers are taking note," he continued.
"Our dealers are increasing their sales, we are investing in our plants, and we are restoring and creating jobs," Whitacre added.
GM recounted that the U.S., Canadian and Ontario governments provided loans of $8.4 billion and took equity stakes in the company. The company explained that of Wednesday's payment, $4.7 billion went to the U.S. Treasury and $1.1 billion was directed to Export Development Canada.
"GM's ability to pay back the loans ahead of schedule is a sign that our plan is working, and that we are on the right track. It is also an important first step toward allowing our stockholders to reduce their equity investments in GM," Whitacre emphasized.
"We still have much hard work ahead of us, but we are making progress toward our vision of designing, building and selling the world's best vehicles," he pointed out. "We appreciate the support the taxpayers have given GM, and our great new products are tangible results of that support."
The final payment coming to the U.S. Treasury was met with a welcomed reaction from Secretary Tim Geithner.
"We are encouraged that GM has repaid its debt well ahead of schedule and confident that the company is on a strong path to viability," Geithner stated.
"This continued progress is a positive sign for our auto investment — not only more funds recovered for the taxpayer but also countless jobs saved and the successful stabilization of a vital industry for our country," he continued.
After this repayment, the Treasury Department indicated that its stake in GM consists of $2.1 billion in preferred stock and 60.8 percent of the common equity.
Additional Reaction to GM Repayment
The Treasury Department wasn't the only segment of the Capitol that reacted positively to GM's loan repayment. It was also met with enthusiam by Congressional leaders, especially Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
"GM's announcement this week is welcome news and validates Democrats' insistence from the very beginning that federal assistance to the auto industry be repaid in full to U.S. taxpayers," noted Pelosi, a Democrat from California.
"GM must continue on a path toward innovation, energy efficiency, and global competitiveness to ensure that taxpayers recoup their full investment," Pelosi added.
The National Automobile Dealers Association also applauded GM for being able to repay the government loans.
"Strong sales of GM's brands — Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac — through a network of thousands of GM dealerships across North America have enabled the company to repay more than $8 billion in loans from the U.S. and Canadian governments way ahead of schedule," association officials noted in a statement.
"While tough challenges still remain, this is a positive development for taxpayers and a positive sign for auto manufacturing and retailing that will help contribute to an overall economic recovery," they continued.
Furthermore, the American Automotive Policy Council — a Washington, D.C.- based nonprofit trade association that represents the common public policy interests of the Big 3 automakers — also weighed in on the news from GM.
The council's statement not only shared its enthusiasm about GM's loan repayment, but also highlighted positive achievements on the performances of Chrysler and Ford, as well.
"AAPC is pleased to note the announcement by General Motors that the company is making an early repayment of its remaining $5.8 billion received in U.S. federal and Canadian government loans last year. We are also pleased to note the Chrysler Group has announced it had an operating profit of $143 million for the first quarter of this year," council officials highlighted.
"Coming out of the most challenging economic environment in decades, Chrysler, Ford and General Motors are each meeting or exceeding their benchmarks set to restructure, make difficult decisions and restore their international competitiveness. We are seeing AAPC's member companies lead the industry on a path toward strong and steady long-term growth. This announcement by GM is the latest evidence of the recovering health of the American auto industry," they went on to state.
AAPC also emphasized how the performance of the domestic automakers should be a positive sign for how the nation's economy is behaving.
"We now have tangible proof as well of incrementally rising auto sales, increased production and increased automotive employment in the United States. These are also encouraging and visible signs that the automotive industry, with Chrysler, Ford and General Motor in the lead, can be the driving force to pull the U.S. economy forward until we have restored the nation's full economic output and potential," officials explained.
"AAPC will continue to report on other such major economic indicators in the months to come that will benchmark the rate of the continued progress underway to boost the competitiveness of the American auto companies to leadership positions in the world economy," they added.
More Possible GM Financial Strengthening
Along with making the loan repayment announcement, Whitacre was questioned about GM making an initial public offering by the end of the year. A report indicated that Whitacre described this as a "real possibility."
Basically, the CEO indicated that repaying the loans, along with the completion earlier in April of a full accounting for the company's results since its emergence from bankruptcy in July 2009, were two key steps for GM toward launching an IPO.
Whitacre left his stance on the subject by noting, "I am not certain at all, but we are working hard on it. It is a real possibility."
Significant GM Plant Investment Under Way
The GM CEO also highlighted a company investment of $257 million at the automaker's Fairfax, Kan., and Detroit Hamtramck assembly plants. The CEO explained that the investment would prepare Fairfax to build the next generation of Chevrolet's Malibu and make Detroit Hamtramck a second source for the vehicle.
The investments are all meant to ensure that brand can meet market demand. The automaker indicated that strong sales of new Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac products are fueling a steady increase in production.
Executives pointed out that sales for GM's four brands are up 36 percent through March versus the same period in 2009. They have found that many newly introduced vehicles, including Chevrolet Equinox, Camaro and Traverse, the GMC Terrain and Acadia, Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac SRX, remain in short supply at franchise dealers.
The Fairfax plant currently builds two of automaker's strongest selling cars, the Chevy Malibu and Buick LaCrosse.
For the first three months of this year, GM said its domestic dealers delivered more than 49,000 Malibus and 14,000 LaCrosses, representing a 58-percent increase over the same period last year. In response to this strong demand, the automaker added a third shift of approximately 1,050 jobs at the Fairfax plant in February, bringing total employment at the facility to more than 3,800.
GM said that its Fairfax plant will become the primary source for the next generation of the Malibu.
Meanwhile, the automaker noted that its Detroit Hamtramck facility, which builds the Buick Lucerne and Cadillac DTS, will be equipped to build the Malibu as well.
Furthermore, GM indicated that Detroit Hamtramck will also build the Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle with extended range, a unit that launches this year.
On March 31, the plant celebrated the building of the first pre-production Volt on the regular assembly line.
All told, GM tallied that its Malibu-related investments total $136 million in Fairfax and $121 million in Detroit Hamtramck for facility upgrades, machinery and equipment and tools.
Since the automaker emerged from bankruptcy, executives have announced investments of more than $1.5 billion at 20 facilities in the United States and Canada.
"These investments restored or created more than 7,500 jobs, and they demonstrate a strong commitment to GM's future and to the United States and Canada," the automaker concluded.